XTRO

Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro.

Xtro is kind of an odd movie and it’s a bit hard to sum it up, so let’s just start at the beginning. A young kid and his father are playing fetch with their dog in their back yard. The father throws the stick onto their roof for no apparent reason and it rips open the sky. A bright blinding light shines. The father disappears. Three years later an alien creature is hit by a car. It kills two people and then gropes a woman in a cabin after growing a tentacle. It falls apart. The woman finds that she is pregnant. She gives birth to a full grown human man who then bites off his own umbilical chord. This man is the one that disappeared in the opening scene. He goes to reconnect with his wife and son, but his wife now has a new boyfriend. Hilarity ensues.

What follows from there is an onslaught of weirdness as the “new born” father alien thing attempts to do something with his son. Is he trying to turn him into an alien too? Is he trying to take him over or mind control him? I have no idea. The creature’s motivations are incredibly vague and the movie tends to dip into the surreal rather than going in any conventional route. There’s a scene where he eats raw snake eggs. He gives his son a hickey and then the son gets psychic powers (I think). The son’s toys come to life and there’s a dwarf clown that keeps appearing to him. A toy soldier kills someone. There are alien eggs in the bathtub. I have no idea what’s going on. In a strange way this reminds me of a science fiction spin on something like The Beyond but with more body horror, and I’m okay with that.

xtro monster

Aside from the general weirdness, they really focus on this small group of characters and the conflict therein. Tony (the child), his mother, her boyfriend, and his father who is now an alien or whatever are with you throughout the whole thing rather than a bunch of disposable nobodies who exist to create a body count. While the cast are acceptable, this is a low budget movie and it’s rough around the edges in all of the ways that you’d expect. None of the performances are over the top campy, but none of them are particularly great either. They’re all just…fine. The one thing that’s a bit hard to figure out is who exactly is the main character. It seems like it should be Tony, but he does some pretty nasty things in the second half and I’m not even sure if he is Tony any more by that point. Is it his mother? She doesn’t have nearly enough screen time if that’s the case.

With all of this being said, Xtro is shaping up to be a hilariously bad b movie, right? Well, not quite. While the budget and script certainly offer up a ton of opportunity for things to go horribly wrong, the directing is actually quite strong. There are so many moments and visuals that could have been super dumb, but end up being legitimately creepy. The alien creature at the beginning is such a dumb design, but when you see quick glimpses of it lit properly with good editing and music it’s pretty jarring. The full grown human being born should be hilarious, but it’s filmed in a way that actually comes off as pretty disturbing.

xtro weird hickey

That doesn’t mean this is a fantastic movie by any means though. The budget is easily and readily apparent and it’s certainly a bit of a hinderance. There are a lot of cool practical effects, but none of them are really convincing. The alien creature is clearly just a guy in a rubber suit crab-walking and one of the other big creature effects is a near-miss. None of them are terrible, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much creepier things would have been if things were polished a bit more. There are also some tonal inconsistencies and portions of the middle almost feel like a completely different movie. Still, everything is passable at least and it’s all still exciting to see.

Xtro is a surprise. It works really well even in spite of its low budget and bizarre script, and possibly even a bit because of those things. The pace is quick, there are tons of strange moments, and it still manages to stay uncomfortable and creepy. If you’re looking for something weird with lots of body horror and some pretty uncomfortable moments, check this one out. I’m definitely curious to see the sequels now.

CC-treasure

Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.

  • Kitty Trundlebutt

    Well, any element of your critique which I’d argue/debate would have to go into cultural-perceptions. Yours would be form a primarily USA Audience perspective; mine would be as an Aussie looking at what an indie Brit film could do *at the time*, with – compared to yank budgets – NO MONEY. Bearing *that* in mind, to be fair, it did as well as the Aussie [pseudo-sci-fi] exploitation film ‘Turkey Shoot’. Also, the VHS sent to Australia was uncut, with no suffering from the “video nasties’ bullshit censorship/cutting which the UK films of this type suffered during that ‘era’. Additionally, I feel this film is woefully misunderstood/received; we all love (and are horrified by) what Fulci did with his 3 ‘gates’ films, most notably The Beyond (uncut). It feels like the standards for sci-fi-horror employing metaphysical/symbolic nuance (like Xtro) has been separated from/disallowed the same latitudes given-freely-to The Beyond, and House By The Cemetery, and frankly, Inferno by Argento.

    It’s not like THOSE ‘metaphysical horror flicks’ had plots any more ‘air-tight’ than Xtro, but because Xtro came from the same shores as The Stone Tape, and Quatermass, people UNFAIRLY expect ‘more of it’. Hey, until a few months ago, Britannia was part of the European Union. Whatever we give to Bava, Fulci or Franco as a ‘free-opass’, we should give to Xtro, which was really a Brit attempt to do with sci-fi-horror what Fulci did with Metaphysical ‘yuck’ 😉